On 29 November 2012, more than 2000 Palestinians burst into celebration as the UN vote was sealed. 139 – for; 9 – against; 41 abstained. What was the vote for? To upgrade Palestine’s status in the UN from ‘observer entity’ to ‘observer state’, making it formally considered as a ‘non-member state’. Interestingly, the vote fell on the 65th anniversary of the initial partitioning of Palestine into two states.
Moments prior to the vote, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cited resolution 181 – the resolution responsible for the partitioning – as the birth certificate for Israel and urged the international community to grant Palestine the same overdue right. It seems like his wish has come through. This article will not provide an extensive background story for the vote, but merely the essentials you would need to know about the vote.
Last year, Palestine unsuccessfully bid for full-membership at the UN. While this was a setback, Abbas focused on future opportunities instead. Abbas arduously campaigned for European countries to support the observer state vote, specifically focusing on the more affluent countries. He managed to obtain the pledge of support from the likes of Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland for the resolution on Palestine. It is worthy to note that the European Union is the current largest aid contributor to Palestinians, so this support from European countries is not something new.
What is also not new is the opposition. Among the 9 countries that opposed the promotion of Palestine to non-member state, only 4 were notably powerful countries: Canada, Israel, United States and Czech Republic. United States and Israel warned Palestine prior to the vote that they would retaliate by withholding necessary funds for the West Bank government should the vote past. These funds are actually those that are collected by Israel on Palestine’s behalf. In addition, the envoy of the United States released a statement saying that Israel will not carry out harsh retaliations, provided that Palestine can guarantee not to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) and file a case against Israel for its alleged war crimes.
The threats did not manage to make Palestine retreat from its struggle, and on the day itself, when 193 representatives of countries gathered in the General Assembly, it seemed like a majority of the international community is on Palestine’s side. The fact that only United States, Canada and Czech Republic stood by Israel might be a tell-tale sign of the stance of the international community on the Israel-Palestine conflict in times to come. A current example of loosening pro-Israel policies would be Germany,who up until recently has been very pro-Israel, but has chosen to abstain from voting in the Palestinian resolution. Perhaps even Germany is feeling the pressure from the rest of the international community to be more sympathetic towards Palestinians. Israel, as well, under pressure of increasingly pro-Palestine policies in the international community, has been carefully reducing the number of ‘harsh’ statements it makes against Palestine.
After the celebrations were done, and millions have seen the photo of the voting board, it’s time for us to look at what the vote has brought about. Firstly, Israel has been swift with its retaliation. Soon after the vote was passed, a proposal to construct a settlement with 3,000 housings in East Jerusalem and part of West Bank. This move is seen by many as a further infringement of the human rights of Palestinians as the settlements would be built on occupied territories. The United States, on the other hand, has been adamant in stressing that the vote was ‘counter-productive’ in the efforts for a permanent peace truce and called for the resumption of direct negotiations.
President Abbas has stated that he does intend to return back to the negotiating table after the vote was over. However, his mind would undoubtedly also be set on strengthening Palestine’s position in the UN – as even currently, Palestine is only getting implicit recognition of being a legitimate state. The most pressing task would be to obtain membership in the ICC, whereby Palestine can attempt to indict Israel for its alleged war crimes. Without further actions, the recent vote celebrated by Palestinians would remain nothing but a symbolic gesture .